For some Asian-Americans who have served in the military, the racial prejudice aspect of Chen’s alleged mistreatment comes with little surprise based on what they’ve seen or experienced. But others say the military is a place where everyone’s limits are tested, and that the failure in Chen’s case is one of leadership.
It’s unclear how often military members experience racial bullying. Despite repeated requests, the Army did not provide any data and the Department of Defense said it didn’t have any information since the service branches are each responsible for their own record-keeping. The Army did say that it has regulations against hazing and bullying in place.
Vietnam War veteran David Oshiro isn’t surprised to hear of the accusations of racial prejudice. The 63-year-old Japanese-American said he didn’t have problems with the men in his unit but often heard slurs from other enlisted Americans. When he was injured, military Medevac personnel assumed he was Vietnamese and nearly delayed his evacuation until all the solders they thought were American had been flown out.
“I got really upset, I started yelling back, ‘I’m an American. You get my ass out of here now,’” said the San Rafael, Calif., resident said.
“It still upsets me, because I keep thinking, ‘We’re on the same team!’”
That wasn’t Rajiv Srinivasan’s experience. The 25-year-old Afghanistan veteran said sure, there were jokes about his Indian heritage from those who served with him. If they approached disrespect, he said he shut it down.
“No matter what race or ethnicity, the Army is going to test the solidity of your character and your identity,” the Ashburn, Va., resident said. “You could be the quintessential military brat-turned-soldier from Fort Benning, Ga.; the culture of the Army is still going to be pushing you.”
Daniel Kim, a 39-year-old Korean-American who spent 12 years in the infantry before leaving in 2004, questioned the leadership in Chen’s unit. Among those implicated are a lieutenant and several non-commissioned officers.
“Who else knew? Who else didn’t speak up?” asked Kim, who now lives in Queens.
The Asian-American presence is small in the military, as in the U.S. population. The most recent data show 43,579 Asian-Americans on active duty in 2010, making up 3.7 percent of those enlisted. Most were in the Army or Navy.
Among the officer corps, a little more than 8,400 were Asian-American in 2010, or 3.9 percent.